Magazine December 17, 2020, Issue

What We Neglect in Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville (Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
Democracy in America is about a lot more than democracy 

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859) was a French aristocrat and one of America’s very best friends, the special, rare kind that tells you the truth. His Democracy in America is quoted often for support, but less often sought for advice. Here are a few points in his great book, often neglected, from which we can learn. (An anniversary is a time to celebrate, but any time is a good time to learn.) 

The meaning of democracy. Many readers today wonder how Tocqueville could speak of “democracy” in 1835, when women had no vote and blacks were enslaved. Tocqueville specifies “equality of conditions”

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Harvey C. Mansfield — Mr. Mansfield is the Kenan Professor of Government at Harvard University, where he has taught since 1962. He is also a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

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